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How This Entrepreneur Uses AI to Automate Lease-Accounting Workflows

September 21, 2021 6 min read

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Before starting his company, Trullion, Isaac Heller worked with several high-growth, pre-IPO technology companies and with real estate technology. Having spent countless hours with contracts, PDFs, spreadsheets and working with auditors and checking numbers, he was inspired to create an AI-powered software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that automates lease-accounting workflows for auditors, Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and accountants. Heller sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss lease accounting and the future of this industry.

Jessica Abo: Before we start talking about your company, how do you define lease accounting?

Isaac Heller: Accounting is looking at the different factors of value. So for example, someone can walk into a store and spend thousands of dollars, and it looks like they have a lot of money, but in their credit account, they actually don’t have any money or they’re in debt. And so accounting takes multiple factors to see what something’s actually worth. So that’s accounting.

Then we’ve got to look at leases. What is a lease? A lease is an alternative to buying. So I could buy my car for $20,000 or I could lease it for five years at $5,000 a year, whatever it is. If I buy it, I pay 20,000 cash out front. So I’ve got 20,000 left. If I lease it, I’m paying a monthly payment of a few hundred dollars every month. So what lease accounting says is, we don’t want it to look like you only pay a few hundred dollars a month. We want to understand the actual value of that lease. There is a long-term value. You are on the hook for five years, at $400 a year, whatever it is, lease accounting for businesses, forces businesses to quantify the liability, the obligation of what you’re paying over multiple years, of a piece of real estate or a vehicle or a medical device. That’s lease accounting.

What are some of the challenges that companies face when it comes to lease accounting?

First of all, it’s new accounting, which means you have to learn and be educated on how to account for that new thing. Second of all, leases historically have been in someone’s file cabinet or stuck in a file folder on someone’s computer, or you might have combined with another company, and so it’s in that other person’s file cabinet. So the challenge is understanding the new accounting and then collecting all of those agreements and Excel files and bringing them together. And then you have to take all that data and make sure that you’re reporting and compliant with the new lease accounting standard, which means that you’ve got to get all that data, understand the standard, and then finally calculate what it means on a monthly and annual basis to do proper lease accounting.

Trullion is a financial workflow platform. It creates a single source of truth by unifying unstructured, complicated data and the actual financial reports that are needed from that data. So for example, we can take documents in Excel and analyze them within our software, present them to an accounting or finance team to be able to review that data, and answer a couple of questions. And then we produce the actual reports that people need and the analytics and the business intelligence for financial reporting. And that’s done in one single unified workflow. That helps controllers and CFOs and accounting leaders save time and improve their accuracy. But at the same time, because they’ve done it in a unified workflow, their auditors, which are their partners, which are checking their work, can actually go and look at their outputs and swim back into the inputs and all the work they did and see this beautiful 360-degree view of everything they did.

And what role does AI play?

One of the challenges that accounting teams have, is taking unstructured data, whether it’s in documents or invoices or Excel or other systems, and putting it into a nice structured format. And so what AI does in one example, is it uses what’s called NLP, which is machine learning, to analyze a contract and take out the financial data and the dates data, then provide it to the accounting team so that they can look at it.

At the end of the day, our clients review that data. So it doesn’t tell them the answer. It just gets them there faster. And they can say, “Yep, that’s where the financial data comes from, that’s where the cost, that’s where the payment comes from, that’s where the end date comes from.” The system actually tags it in the document, which means the auditor who looks at it can see exactly in the document where it came from. Part of the job of the auditor and accounting teams, and really a lot of teams in companies, is spending time looking back through these documents and source data. They could spend an hour looking for something. The AI, because it’s taking it from the source of truth, is like a spider web onto the document and can come back to the place where it came from. That’s what AI’s doing.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

You’ve got to be all in. Whatever idea you have, you have to be laser-focused and motivated to bring it to reality. That’s very, very important. Step one, talk to the people who would use or buy your software, once you get enough validation that there’s an actual pain point or opportunity there.

Step two, I would say, is to convert it into a prototype. Now, your resources are probably going to be low, so that means you have to do this very efficiently. One of the things that I did was use the design software. You can use InVision, Figma or many others, and design the prototype of the software that you want it to look like, or sit with your friend who’s got one of those pretty Apple MacBooks and design the screenshots. We designed about 10 screenshots of what we wanted the software to look like, and we created a video, actually put it on YouTube, a minute video of what we wanted the software to look like without a line of code. That’s step two.

Then build what’s called an MVP, a minimum viable product. It can be very basic. Use inexpensive development if you can, so that you can actually see something go from point A to point B in the product. And then from there, you’ve just got to sell.